No one is doing brutal and beautiful – often all at once – quite like Burial. In the beat-less variety of dark ambient works there’s Lustmord, but in terms of grit and pulse Burial has been leading the way since Untrue fully announced the talent – the earlier, self-titled full lengther gave clues too but Untrue was when people really started discovering this music, and then continuum (every EP) since then.
So Rival Dealer opens with the 11-minute surge of the title track, a stop-start hurtle through the usual tube rides and rain-soaked streets and post-rave ravings all flicking and flittering past – while being beamed directly in – and all the while the glimpses and glittering soul samples of disco voices. But that’s just the half-way mark of the track and, by god, at that stage you could dust yourself off, punch-drunk, and figure you’d already heard a full album’s worth of ideas.
Then it goes Orbital, but a sort of back-alley behind-the-club version of Orbital before breaking away into the ambience of a post-apocalyptic comedown. A sort of walk-of-shame soundtrack for whatever cultural holocaust waits just around the corner, twerking and finger-banging itself in demented anticipation of a dribbled-out flaccid non-climax.
Remember – this is still all in one tune!
By comparison second track, Hiders, is a pop-song. It does for Burial what that final track (Beth/Rest) on the second Bon Iver album did for Justin Vernon. Raises the are you actually joking?-question. Here, aborted yacht-rock chords are placed over the Blade Runner Tears In The Rain-esque soundscape that is as much a part of Burial’s aesthetic as the almost plain-sleeve album/EP covers. And when it builds, slowly, surely, towards 80s-excess drums, a sort of Phil Collins-does-Never Ending Story to an, er, Bronski Beat, well it would be fair to laugh at the absurdity and/or revel in it. The track shuts down to rain and static and the usual dark(ened) moods. Danny Elfman taking over from the momentary whimsy, you forget all of this happened just after it happened. And all inside five minutes.
Come Down To Us concludes the EP – and I think Chris Orczy wrote beautifully, brilliantly, about the feel and power of this track within the context of Burial’s work.
It works also to bookend the strangeness that is Hiders – the little giggle locked away inside two “proper” pieces; two ten-minute reachers closing in around – and giving power to – the tucked-inside folly.
Built, conceptually/thematically, from equal parts Rival Dealer and Hiders, Come Down To Us is its own mini-album, moving, stately and elegiac, to grow wings, to soar. To take you, as Burial always does, on a journey.
There’s more hope in this track – and in this EP overall – than in other Burial releases. Where previously we’ve felt the disconnection, the moping, the eyes-down on the train-ride, hood-up, headphones-in approach – a world of beauty, but one to cling to alone, to eventually find. Rival Dealer offers a world of hope – and several words of hope. It tells you that world of beauty is there. It tells you to look for it.
And it closes with a speech from Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry Wachowski, one of the filmmakers behind Bound and The Matrix. Lana, fully transitioned from male to female, discusses feeling broken, feeling a freak because the voices in her head took over. She needed examples of what she was going through, to know who she was, as a way to find courage, to find a feeling of peace.
It’s poignant and powerful – and it ties together an anti-bullying theme that is hinted at across the EP with other vocal samples featuring voices announcing This is who I am and Who are you?
We may still not know (exactly) who Burial is – nor quite where he’s taking us – but we know that with each piece of work he offers up – that is exactly who he is. He is that work. For that moment. For those moments, he is there, all but buried inside it. This then, for now, is who he is. And it’s among his finest works. Spiritual, passionate, masterful, seeking…and all inside half an hour and three tracks that play out like their own (connected) movies.